Water Pollution In Africa: Reasons, Effects, Statistics

Water Pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa

It is a sad fact that even with all the big rivers, Africa stands amongst the continents whose waters are heavily polluted. To show the extent to which water pollution has affected this continent, all its countries (including the developed ones) face problems with water pollution.

Contaminated water has always been the primary threat to sub-Saharan communities of Africa. According to recent research, every other person in Africa suffers from Malnutrition. As water is a vital energy source for all living beings, it is essential to consume filtered water for nourishment. Water not only quenches thirst but also plays a critical role in the development of the human brain. About 70% of the human body is water.

Millions of children have died in Africa due to the consumption of unclean food and water. They don’t have the proper resources to clean water. Keeping this problem in view, we are going to discuss the factors causing these problems.

But what are the reasons behind this pollution? What are the results of the pollution? In this post, we take a closer look at the water pollution menace in Africa, its effects on the Africans, and so much more.

Before diving into the plethora of information, you must know what are the types of water pollution.

Types of Water Pollution

There are two types of water pollution:

  • Organic\ biological water pollution; E.g., pollution originated by the formation of bacteria, viruses generated by waste disposal.
  • Chemical water pollution; chemicals produced by industries.

Causes of Water Pollution in Africa

Water pollution is the amount of primary and secondary pollutants in water. Primary pollutants are those pollutants that originate from a direct source. E.g., Dust particles. At the same time, the reaction of primary pollutants forms secondary pollutants. E.g., the formation of sulfuric acid as a result of acid rain. The main reasons behind water pollution are:

  • Direct disposal of chemical water in river lines.
  • Disposal of waste material or garbage in the water.
  • Leakage of the sewerage system.
  • The presence of metallic substances in river water leads to effects on marine life. 

There are numerous reasons behind the widespread water pollution in Africa: from poor human waste management to industrial dumping. Let’s take a look at all the reasons why water quality is a greater concern for sub-Saharan Africa’s populations.

In this section, we’ll take a look at the major causes of water pollution in Africa. These include:

1. Mining

Africa has the advantage of producing some of the most precious minerals, not easily found in many other parts of the world. While this might sound good for the continent, the process of mining these minerals contributes to water pollution. This is because the poorly managed process leads to the introduction of harmful substances into the water.

yellow truck on gray road during daytime


Though mining proves to be a great source of income in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s also causing water pollution. Mining is done in three ways:

  1. Under-water method.
  2. Under-ground method.
  3. One-pit method (open surface).

People are being careless during this process. They don’t dump the waste through the proper channel. In fact, they let it drown in the water, and as a result, water quality is compromised in Africa.

Moreover, miners also suffer from respiratory diseases as they breathe harmful minerals during the process. They are risking the lives of people as well as of themselves. The proper management system should be applied by the government of Sub-Saharan communities to solve these problems. 

The effects of these substances include an increase in the mineral and salt content in water bodies, changes in pH levels of the water, and even increased water murkiness. With all these effects, it’s no doubt that the waters have become unfit for human consumption. And if consumed, they’ll lead to health problems.

2. Agriculture

As you may already know, farming is the backbone of the African economy. Agriculture not only contributes to the economy; it also provides job facilities to Africans. In simple words, it is the practice of growing and cultivating plants and livestock. Surprisingly it also contributes to the water problem in the continent. How? It lowers the quality of water and soil by releasing a large number of chemicals, antibiotics. It also affects human health.

green and white tractor on green grass field during daytime

The physical destruction of the farming soils and vegetation during plowing, logging, overgrazing, roads construction, etc. result in soil erosion. This, in turn, leads to the introduction of salts and minerals in the soil to water bodies during rainfalls.

Agriculture has been compromising the quality of water and making it polluted. Harmful chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics play an important role in affecting the quality of water and soil. Residues of these toxic substances can remain present for years.

Nitrates are used during the process of cultivation. Nitrates are added because of solubility and biodegradability factors. Moreover, they are also contributing to water pollution as many nitrates are present in water that leads to hypertension, high blood pressure, dizziness after consumption of it.

Besides, the use of excreta and fertilizers in the farms leads to vast amounts of phosphates in water bodies- resulting in eutrophication. Don’t forget that they also use pesticides on their farms which can also be easily carried into water bodies, leading to the introduction of harmful substances into the waters.

3. Deforestation

Deforestation happens around the globe. But it’s more widespread in African countries as they seek to clear more and more land for urbanization and agriculture. Though the number of trees is getting lower, the quality of soil and water is also disturbed. In other words, not only the quantity of forests is compromised it also leads to other problems.

For those who don’t know, deforestation refers to the process through which forests get cut down without planting new trees to replace them. This environmentally unfriendly process strips the soil of protective vegetation, and soil erosion ensures.

Needless to mention, more soil into water bodies will affect the water plants and animals as well as make the water unfit for drinking and cooking.

4. Urbanization

More and more people are moving to towns every year. Although converting a rural area into an urban is a sign of development for a country, this conversion is also disturbing the health of sub-Saharan people. In fact, the urbanization rate is predicted to hit the 50% mark by the year 2030.

While this might be good news for the Africans, it also comes with its fair share of contribution to water pollution. Case in point, urbanization translates to clearing more land for building roads, houses, industries, and other essential institutions. This translates to deforestation and soil erosion.

Sewage treatment might also become an issue as the urban population grows, further leading to the intoxication of drinking waters.

5. The Rise of Industries

This is directly related to our previous point above; the industrialization of Africa has led to increased urbanization.

The many factories and companies will then dump their wastes into surrounding water bodies. Keeping in mind that these residues are full of toxic substances, you can easily tell that the resulting water will be entirely unsafe for human health.

Whether it is a food industry or textile, they are polluting the water and disturbing the lives of people who live nearby. 

Even worse, most of the African governments don’t show efforts to stop industrial dumping given that these companies are making huge profits.

6. Poor Sanitation

With people lacking a proper way to dispose of human waste in most parts of the African continent, it slowly finds its way to the water sources. This leads to water that’s unsafe for human consumption as it gets contaminated with parasites, bacteria, and other pollutants. Sadly (or due to lack of choice), you’ll find people still drinking this water or using it for other needs. The consequence is an increase in outbreaks of water-related illnesses that go as far as causing loss of lives.

Safe water for consumption is a basic necessity for a human being. People of Africa are compelled to use unsafe water for consumption, they don’t have a choice by the way. Government should take serious action in this matter because the top priority is Human health. 

7. Politics

Believe me; politics also play a role in water problems in Africa…

There are often many water sources that are shared by more than one country. This has led to some conflicts- for instance when one country decides to dam a shared river. This may lead to flooding or drought on one side or the other.

Government is busy playing dirty politics, putting the lives of poor people in danger. Their health is compromised. In other words, politics between countries are putting the lives of citizens at the brink of danger.

The conflict that will result after that will lead to water pollution as neither of the parties will be able to focus on maintaining the cleanliness of the water. There are many rivers, and lakes spread all over the continent, and 80 are shared by more than one country.

8. Acid rain

You all have heard this term. And yes! Human activities also initiate acid rain. Industries and vehicles produce harmful gases in the air that reacts with one another and form toxic substances. Later on, these unhealthy substances mix with water, and as a result, acid rain forms.

Acid rain has 2- 4 pH approximately which is considered highly acidic. Low pH can cause harmful effects to human health as well as pollution of water.

To overcome this situation, one has to follow proper instructions on waste disposal and managing chemicals released by industries daily.

Effects of Water Pollution in Africa

Now that you know the leading causes of water pollution in Africa–the world’s second-largest (and second most populous- with a population of 1.216 billion people) continent, you might be wondering how this situation affects the inhabitants. After all, it’s not only important to know the causes of water pollution in Africa, but we must also focus on how it impacts the people living on the content.

In this section, we’ll turn our focus lens on the various ways in which the water problem affects the lives of Africans.

Limited Access to Clean Water

Water pollution in Africa (and elsewhere) involves the introduction of harmful, poisonous chemicals and other substances into waters (both ground and surface) making them undrinkable.

Let’s get this straight, not everyone is capable to get access to clean water in Africa. That’s why people are suffering from malnutrition, diarrhea, headache, and other stomach problems. 

In other words, the contamination of water makes it unsafe for human use. And with the increased rate of water pollution in Africa, so is the availability of clean water becoming limited.

Agricultural (and Food Supply)

When the polluted water runs through farming soils, the soils will become contaminated with harmful toxins that will affect the growth of plants already in the farms and those yet to be planted.

Deforestation and urbanization also cause soil erosion which carries away the top fertile soil layers, stripping the soil of the essential nutrients needed by plants to grow.

Above all, lack of sufficient water will make it impossible for plants to grow, and in most cases, they’ll eventually dry out.

Considering that agriculture is the main thing for Africans, the effect of water pollution on farming will cut short their food supply and leave many of them starving.

Health Effects

As we did mention earlier, most of the developing countries in Africa lack better sanitation practices. They don’t have access to toilets, latrines, etc., so they use watercourses for urination and defecation.

When fecal water pollution teams up with other sources of water pollution, it leads to a myriad of diseases–a handful of which have claimed the lives of many Africans.

Every other day, thousands of people die in Africa due to harmful diseases caused by unsafe water. They don’t have clean water for cooking. How can they live healthily? Children under the age of 5 are sick, suffering from diseases, malnourished, and ultimately dead.

Here’s a list of the most common water-related infections in Africa:


Cholera is known to have devastating effects on those that it affects. It results in a person having leg cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. This in effect causes dehydration within a short time.

The ability to deal with cholera is wanting in the continent; many developing countries are unable to treat the people who are suffering from cholera. This has caused many to die because of a lack of medical assistance.

In Africa, medical facilities are not well-established. Myriads of children die every day due to cholera. And there is not an inch of improvement by the government yet.  

Dengue Fever

This fever is known to be caused by mosquitos. It leads one to suffer from high fever, headaches, rashes, and pain as well. It may not always cause death, but it is known to lead to complications that affect the liver. This complication is known to lead to liver malfunctioning, and this may cause death.

The Aedes mosquito causes dengue. This mosquito is born only in dirty water and spreads deadly viruses by biting.


With advanced medical care facilities, this can be treated. But for the many in Africa where the health services are not yet well established many die as a result of hepatitis. It causes one to lose weight significantly, suffer from a lot of discomfort and pain, and leads to fever. It is also known to cause diarrhea.


Parasites that exist in untreated water are known to be many. Water laying around in not well-sanitized conditions can be the habitat for parasites such as ringworm, scabies, and hookworm among others.

If a person is exposed for a long time to these water sources or drinking from them regularly, they fall at risk of getting sick. Livestock also falls at risk of being infected as well, and they may pass on the parasites to people who eat the meat from them.


brown and black insect

Malaria is one of the biggest health challenges that Africa faces. It is spread by the mosquitoes that breed in the many dirty water pools. Swamps are one of them.

Malaria is known to affect all, but the ones who are at most risk are children below five years as well as pregnant mothers. They don’t have the strong immunity to fight the disease.

Shocking Statistics on Water Situation in Africa

Before we call an end to our post on the water problem in Alkebulan (that’s the ancient name for Africa), allow me to share with you some shocking facts on the water situation in the continent below:

  • Out of the 54 countries in Africa, 14 of them experience severe water shortage issues, and 11 more are expected to have the same experience in a few years to come. In simpler terms, it means that nearly 50% of the continent’s population will be facing limited access to clean water.
  • In this continent, a total of 650 people lose their lives every day due to diarrhea that’s water relayed. Most of the victims are pregnant women and underage children.
  • In most of the developing African countries, you’d be surprised to find out that an average person consumes around 2.6- 5.2 gallons of water in a day. This is unlike the 158 gallons consumed by an average person in developed countries like the US. This means that Africa doesn’t always wash their hands, food, or clothes to save water for drinking/cooking. This might be a good source of poor hygiene infection across the continent.
  • Out of all the rivers and lakes in Africa (Africa is home to 677 lakes btw), 80 are shared by more than 1-2 or more countries. This often leads to political stress, where the parties interested keep conflicting over the ownership/usage of the resources. And this makes the states unable to keep the water clean or readily available to their citizens.
  • 30% of the continent’s water is found in the Congo Basin. Unluckily, only 10% of the entire Africa population gets to enjoy this water, leading to unequal distribution of water (and acute water shortages across the planet.
  • Of the entire (huge) population residing in sub-Saharan Africa, only 16% enjoys access to clean water through the dedicated taps in their homes and yards. Part of the remaining population relies on community wells while the others gather the surface water from nearby sources. Keep in mind that this water isn’t clean/filtered and might easily pose health risks to the entire population that relies on it.
  • Up to 42% of all the healthcare facilities in the world’s second-largest continent lack easy access to clean water. This is a call for concern, given that victims of contaminated water rely on these facilities as their last hope. The doctors will have a hard time conducting procedures that require the use of clean water. They’ll have difficulties treating dehydration issues that need clean water.
  • 85% of the children below five years of age in the African continent lose their love due to lack of access to clean drinking water. They simply die due to contaminated waters and water-borne diseases.

Possible Solutions to Overcome Water Pollution in Africa

Water quality is a greater concern for sub-Saharan Africa’s populations. Improper sanitation and waste disposal management lead to water pollution. It affects the health of African people. Water pollution is making the lives of precious souls in danger day by day. 

Here are some possible solutions one can follow to overcome this problem.

  • Proper treatment of waste disposal.
  • To conserve water; knowing that water is the vital source of health, take care of it accordingly.
  • Do not dispose of garbage directly in rivers, seas. It affects marine life as well as human life.
  • Reduce air pollution; as air pollution directly affects the water by the reaction of chemicals with water. So, the lower the air pollution, the lower will be water pollution.
  • Improvement of plastic disposal.
  • Promote green agriculture.

Final Verdict

One of the biggest problems facing Africa right now is the lack of access to clean water that’s safe for drinking/cooking. Given that Africa is the second-largest/second most populous continent (with up to 1.216 billion people) on this planet, this issue can’t be ignored.

The government of all the African countries should unite and solve this issue as soon as possible. The government of sub-Saharan communities shouldn’t compromise the quality of water in any region because life depends on it.

All the African countries need to join hands and come up with long-lasting solutions that will save billions-plus lives before it’s too late. They must find a solution to water pollution in Africa.



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